Checking outdoor statuary for winter damage

10th April 2023

Now that spring is here, it’s the perfect time to check on your valuable garden statuary for any damage caused by the ravages of winter. The past months have seen plenty of weather extremes and temperature fluctuations, so here are a few things to look out for if you have not already purchased one of our protective winter covers.

Probably the most obvious signs of damage to see are cracks in the stone. They can be caused by water remaining within the smallest of fissures, expanding upon freezing, then thawing again and so on.  It is the repetitive nature of this freeze thaw cycle that can cause excessive damage to the stone by the pressure exerted onto surrounding areas as the freezing water expands. Don’t just look for new cracks or fissures but keep an eye on the cracks already present, have they got bigger, wider or longer? Have they appeared on limb junctions, such as fingers, wrists, ankles, noses, or necks?  Deterioration of stone and marble is exponential. Once moisture penetrates a weak point, such as a crack or a small area of delaminating stone, damage will continue at a faster rate and then the potential loss of digits or a nose tip becomes a high risk.

If you have soil contained within garden statuary such as urns or decorative planters without sufficient drainage, then look out for severe structural cracking and damage in case the waterlogged soil has undergone freeze thaw cycles and caused the stone to cleave and split.

Example of cracked stonework

Moisture can enter cracks and freeze in a continuous repetitive cycle during the winter months. Over a number of years the stone will eventually become detached

What causes the damage to your garden statues, outdoor sculpture and decorative stonework?

Pay attention to the surface of your sculpture. Does it look rough, crystalline, sugary or crazed? Look at the edges of any carving, does it look “nibbled” or is definition being lost to once delicate facial features? This degradation can be caused by various decay mechanisms over the winter months. These include:

  • Excessive moisture within the stone and freeze thaw action
  • Acidic atmospheric pollutants contained in rainwater that dissolves the carbonate stone matrix
  • Wind eroding detail with fine airborne debris
  • Salt used to grit roads can have an impact if the proximity is close enough and the conditions are right
Rough and crystalline/sugary marble

Rough and crystalline/sugary marble

Protecting historic stone and marble statues from wet conditions

Stone or marble that has endured prolonged moisture saturation over the cold winter months provides the perfect environmental conditions for biological growth to flourish. Heavy colonisation of disfiguring algae and lichens can occur particularly if your statue or object resides under a tree or is very close to bushes or hedges. Where possible cut these back, to lessen any acidic excretions and to allow air to flow more freely. Also, be mindful of root growth that can exert enormous pressure on stonework and undermine stability. Look for joints opening up and stones becoming misaligned.

In most of these cases it is excessive water that is the main factor in damage to garden statuary. Cliveden Conservation’s Winter Covers keep the rain out and maintain a more steady local environment to protect historic stone and marble.

Areas of delaminating stone and loss of carved detail and definition. If not addressed more stone will fall off/disappear in the next few winters.

Areas of delaminating stone and loss of carved detail and definition. If not addressed more stone will fall off/disappear in the next few winters.

Plan ahead for next winter with our Winter Covers

Now that the winter is over, it is time to assess the condition of your garden sculpture and plan ahead to protect your precious objects from our ever challenging weather. Cliveden Conservation can help with condition surveys, undertake repairs and conservation and design and supply the most suitable outdoor winter covers for your needs.


Order Winter Covers for 2023/24